THEY have only been involved in Europe on five occasions previously in their entire 124 year history.

Their 5-0 victory over part-time minnows Progres Niederkorn in Luxembourg last week was just the third time they had ever won a game in continental competition.

And they will be the underdogs when their Europa League third round qualifier against Rangers kicks off in their 14,700-capacity Koning Willem Stadium on Thursday evening.

Yet, Willem II have been transformed by both substantial investment and a forward-thinking transfer policy in recent years and will be difficult opponents for their Scottish rivals to overcome.

The Tilburg-based club received a significant windfall when their former player Frenkie de Jong moved from Ajax to Barcelona in a €75m deal last summer thanks to a sell-on clause they insisted on when they parted with him back in 2015.

That money was invested wisely in new signings by their technical director Joris Mathijsen, the former Hamburg and Feyenoord centre half who played for the Netherlands in the World Cup final against Spain in 2010, and their on-field fortunes improved dramatically as a result.

Willem II beat Ajax, AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven in the Eredivisie last season and were in fifth place when the Dutch league was abandoned by the KNVB back in April due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Steven Gerrard’s side have both drawn with and beaten formidable adversaries such as Braga, Feyenoord, Legia Warsaw, Maribor, Porto, Spartak Moscow, Villarreal and Young Boys in the past couple of European campaigns.

This one-off match promises to be as challenging as any of them.

Wilber Hack, a former South American scout for Chelsea who now works as a reporter for the Brabants Dagblad newspaper, certainly believes Willem II have both the manager and the playing personnel needed to cause an upset and progress.

“Willem have a good technical director in Joris Mathijsen,” he said. “He has been at Willem II for four seasons now. He brought in Adrie Koster as the new manager when he was appointed and decided 4-3-3 was the formation the team should play with.

“Koster is a very experienced manager. He has worked as a coach for 35 years now. He was interim head coach at Ajax for a spell and was also in charge at Club Brugge in Belgium before. He is doing a very good job.

“He always plays with a 4-3-3- system. He wants his team to play a high pressing game and is always looking for them to attack. He likes wing backs who can get forward and attack.”

Hack added: “Mathijsen has a very good view of young talented players. In recent years Willem have brought in a lot of young players from the second teams of Bundesliga clubs. They don’t have a chance to play in the first team in Germany so they come here to develop their games. They earn less money, but they improve as players.

“Willem II also have a lot of money now. They earned a lot when Frenkie de Jong signed for Barcelona from Ajax. They got 15 per cent of the €75m transfer fee. They invested that money in new players and have done well because of that.”

Vangelis Pavlidis, the Greek striker who previously played for VfL Bochum and Borussia Dortmund II in Germany, was one of them. He has already been pinpointed by Gerrard as the danger man. The 6ft 1in 21-year-old is certainly in form. He netted doubles against Progres last week and in a 4-0 triumph over Heracles on Sunday.

“Pavlidis only played for the second team of Borussia Dortmund before he came to Tilburg,” said Hack. “But he has evolved his game here and become a full Greek international. He is one of the key Willem II players.”

However, the physical and hard-working centre forward is far from the only individual who James Tavernier and his team mates will have to successfully shackle if they are to triumph and go forward to a play-off match against either Galatasaray of Turkey of Hajduk Split of Croatia next week .

“They have more,” said Hack. “They have Gorkem Saglam, a young German attacking midfielder who played for Bochum. They have two players from the Bayern Munich second team as well, the left winger Derrick Kohn and the striker Kwasi Wriedt.

“Then there is Mike Tresor, a young player from Belgium. He is a very technical midfield player. In defence, they have Sebastian Holmen, a centre back who was called up by Sweden during the last international break.

“Wriedt is out for a month after breaking a bone in his foot. Leeroy Owusu, their Dutch right back, will not play either because he has a hamstring injury. But they showed at the weekend against Heracles they can cope without them.”

He continued: “In the first-half Willem II didn’t create too many chances. Koster took out the two wingers, Che Nunnely and Mats Kohlert, put in two new players there and made some changes in midfield.

“Tresor was playing as an attacking midfielder and he moved to the left wing and Saglam was playing as a defensive midfielder and he moved to the attacking midfield role. It was the same formation, but with different players. It changed everything. After that, every attack resulted in a goal. They scored three goals in six minutes in the second-half.”

Willem II were involved in a match-fixing scandal back in 2015 when it emerged several of their former players had been paid a total of €100,000 to lose matches against Ajax and Feyenoord by an Asian gambling syndicate in 2009.

If they beat Rangers on Thursday evening nobody will be able to claim the result was rigged.

“Willem II are the underdogs,” said Hack. “Rangers are a big name in European football. Willem has far less experience in continental competition. But if they can play their normal game and not get drawn into a fight for the ball with Rangers they have a chance.

“They played well against Progres last week. They performed with a good intensity from the very first minute. Okay, Rangers are a superior team. But if Willem can reproduce their display then they can get the result they are looking for and going through.”